Can the New York Jets Be Successful Attacking the New England Patriots Safeties?
Specifically, both are scrutinized for their deficiencies in the passing game: New England's inability to stop it on defense and New York's inability to get the ball moving through the air.
A stoppable force meets a movable object on Sunday at Gillette Stadium, but which side holds the advantage going in, and which side will come out on top?
Let's break down the matchup piece-by-piece.
Jets Passing Game
The Jets scored 35 points on a day where quarterback Mark Sanchez had just 82 yards passing and threw just 18 passes. So clearly, they don't rely on their passing game for big-time damage.
If that wasn't already apparent, the Jets are tied for 24th in the NFL with just 15 pass plays of 20 yards or more. It's not for lack of trying, however; Mark Sanchez ranks 17th in the NFL, with 19.2 percent of his pass attempts traveling 15 or more yards in the air.
Could an increase in snaps for quarterback Tim Tebow be in the works?
He is, after all, a decent deep passer, and although he's not statistically any better at it than Sanchez, the Jets might be wise to have Tebow lull the Patriots to sleep with option runs and go for the knockout blow with a deep pass to test New England's safeties.
This season, the Jets have been relatively successful with the deep ball; Sanchez has gone 9-of-26 on throws 20 yards or deeper downfield and has two touchdowns to show for it.
One such touchdown came in Week 1 against the Bills, where Sanchez found Stephen Hill running free through the Bills secondary with no safety on him.
The safety (circled in red) bit on the pump fake, and with three defenders hovering around tight end Jeff Cumberland, that left no one in the deep half on the left side (circled in yellow), and Hill blew right past rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
The Jets did some serious damage to a maligned Bills secondary in Week 1 and made some big plays in the passing game against the Dolphins when they needed to. They have a track record of taking advantage of weak opponents and may be able to do so against the Patriots in Foxboro.
Patriots Pass Defense
We've all heard it by now: Thirty-three pass plays of 20 yards or more against the New England Patriots is the most given up by any NFL defense in 2012.
The safeties have been the position in most focus, but there's something to be said for how much time opposing quarterbacks have had in the pocket. Take, for instance, the big plays allowed against the Seattle Seahawks. Quarterback Russell Wilson had 3.1, 2.3, 3.7, 4.2, 3.9 and 2.8 seconds in the pocket on his throws. The four-man rush isn't working; the Patriots have to find a way to get pressure on opposing passers.
The safeties get a bit lost in coverage on this play, with safety Patrick Chung (red) covering no one while Sterling Moore (orange) cuts outside, leaving cornerback Devin McCourty alone to cover the wide receiver (orange) and giving up a 51-yard completion.
Wilson completed six passes of 20 or more yards against the Patriots. For perspective, he had eight before Sunday's game.
To suggest that the Patriots won't give up big plays through the air based on an opponent's inability to create them is to blindly ignore the past.
Who Holds the Edge?
The Jets' stock is up, while the Patriots is down. For that reason, it's easy to give the early advantage to the Jets here.
The Patriots know that their primary objective will be to shut down the running game. That could, in turn, make defending the pass easier, but it could also open them up to big plays in the passing game. They were able to shut down Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, but that didn't help them stop Russell Wilson from torching them through the air.
If the Patriots aren't able to find a way to mitigate the damage done in the passing game, they'll be involved in close games and shootouts regardless of how well their first-ranked offense performs. If the Jets aren't able to expose a weak Patriots secondary and create big plays through the air, they could have a hard time keeping pace.
In the end, the advantage goes to the Jets.
Until the Patriots can prove they can stop even inferior competition from going long against them on a consistent basis, there's no reason to think they'll stop anyone.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.
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